Ian Herbert: Modernity is fine but old-school ways still needed at Anfield - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Ian Herbert: Modernity is fine but old-school ways still needed at Anfield

Kenny Dalglish's second term as Liverpool manager felt like a personal fiefdom at times – such as on the morning, in the pit of the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra saga, when he sat down with managing director Ian Ayre and director of football Damien Comolli to help illuminate his club's position. Dalglish took the middle seat, with Ayre and Comolli on the flanks. That said it all.

It's easy to see why Liverpool's owners are looking for something more democratic as they put a new management structure in place, having hollowed out the old one. However melancholic Dalglish's second exit might have been, a mental image of him sprang to mind on Thursday morning when Ayre, listing the personality traits he was looking for in his candidates, described how "it is about how controlling some are, compared to others".

That said, while there is a deeply welcome modernity about Fenway Sports Group's requirement of "ability, methodology, style of play, character traits" (as Ayre put it) and its methodical way of working through a list of candidates, FSG should know that there's nothing old-school about a demanding manager who rages against the machine.

Manchester City are the supreme modern example. In many ways, Fenway's intelligent attempts to put in place a new system at Anfield reflect City, who have divided the technical director role and football administrator role in the same way that Liverpool now seem intent on doing, albeit that Mike Rigg reported to Brian Marwood at that club. It is something of a frustration in some quarters at City that the system sometimes struggles to contain the manager, Roberto Mancini. We discovered as much last summer when he bridled at the grey, dull insignificance – as he saw it – of Financial Fair Play. He seemed to be in a state of attrition with the football administrator, Marwood, and chief executive Garry Cook, and there's a similar storm brewing at this moment. Mancini wants to pile rapidly into the transfer market. His club want to get some players sold first.

Everyone qualified to know at City will say that Mancini could use some work on his soft skills, and that a more collegiate outlook would be a good addition to his armoury. Yet they will live with his 6 out of 10 on that one because of what goes on in the dressing room. A collegiate, rational outlook is a fine attribute when everyone's trying to get the numbers to add up, but a club actually needs a manager who can sit his players down in adversity and demand they go the extra mile for him.

The cult of the manager still carries its benefits, just like the simple, old-fashioned ways of scouting for players which Liverpool seem to have forgotten. They have shown a zest for technical specialists with a knowledge of the continent, and Moneyball sabermetrics are interesting. But Liverpool don't need entirely to forget that Geoff Twentyman, armed with instincts, unearthed some of the club's greatest names.

If you pushed Liverpool on it, they may say that Sir Alex Ferguson and his own fiefdom is representative of the old ways. Wrapping up the description of the qualities he is looking for, Ayre said that "it is not just about the football" and to a point he is right. But football has a fair deal to do with it. There might not be an interview tickbox for how a manager responds, at half-time, when all seems utterly lost, but it is a quality that matters deeply.

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